A46 Stoneleigh Junction: Current WCC Plans Dangerous and Outdated

What follows is a lengthy post, but the project is too important to not weigh in properly. Brief summary:

  1. Current plans for the A46 Stoneleigh Junction present a serious safety hazard for pedestrian and cyclists.
  2. Despite input from cyclists, WCC has not modified plans to increase safety.
  3. WCC prioritizes traffic flow and speed, putting safety of vulnerable road users at risk.

A couple of weeks ago, I described the current state of affairs for those wanting to travel from Leamington to Kenilworth or vice versa as an Embarrassment and Dangerous.

Warwickshire County Council (WCC) looks to improve the junction (see for early thoughts here), which it considers to be outdated and no longer able to handle traffic. This is certainly an issue during term time, when I have seen traffic backed up all along from the A46 to campus in the morning and in the opposite direction in the afternoon/evening during rush hour. Also, there have been reports of queuing on the A46 northbound in the mornings for short periods of time. There may be other ways to alleviate these traffic issues (WCC hopefully knows that they can not build their way out of a traffic jam, considering that induced demand will fill those new roadways up within a short period of time; for an academic paper explaining this in detail, see here). There are other ways to get people from and to where they want go instead of focusing on what is usually single-passenger vehicles. But that is for another post and another day.

This project constitutes phase 1 of up to three phases which will see further construction of an east-west connector towards the University of Warwick and potentially further west.

State of Affairs

The first two pictures show the current design. One of them points out that the current layout does not have adequate facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. While this is true, the current design is actually safer for cyclists than what is being proposed.

Current Plans 

The following shows what WCC plans to do. The new design will essentially resemble the Thickthorn gyratory I wrote about previously, with all the dangerous aspects that design entails. Coincidentally, some of these aspect are exactly what WCC lauds as improvements: the installation of “segregated free flowing lanes between Stoneleigh Road and both the A46 on-slips”. More about that in a moment.

The bottom part describes the aims of the scheme: reduction of congestion, “[improvement of] reliability of journey times by increasing capacity of the junction” (read: higher traffic throughput), more efficient access to the A46 (read: higher speeds), reduce accidents, improve air quality (how that follows from higher vehicle counts is unclear). It also claims improvements to “facilities for pedestrians and cyclists”.

It is the last bit that I want to focus on here. Some background: Cycleways, a local cycling group and of which I am a member, invited WCC staff to a meeting shortly after the plans were unveiled. It was a cordial event and Cycleways members left with an expectation that the plans presented at the time would be improved. The current plans are identical to the ones shown at that meeting, which is – to put it mildly – a major disappointment. One very clear message Cycleways members conveyed from that meeting was that while the news that there may be improvements for the route between Leamington and Kenilworth were welcome, any crossing over the A46 must include proper and safe facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. How to achieve this is neatly encapsulated in Interim Advice Notice 195/16.

There is much in that document to like, but sadly almost none of the required or suggested measures (such as traffic separation by way of underpasses/overpasses, grade separation) are put in place. Rather, the plans make navigating the planned intersection considerably more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.

Problems with the Current Design

To illustrate this, compare the current design with what is planned. While not adequate, the current design (one lane in each direction) allows for a cyclist to control vehicular traffic by “taking the lane”. Below is a screenshot of the current situation, looking southeast with the A46 just ahead.

This may make some cyclists uncomfortable, but it is ultimately a safe way to navigate this area as anyone crossing the A46 on the existing bridge has priority over traffic entering Stoneleigh Road.

Scenario I: Intrepid Cyclist Choosing to Ride on Roadway

The proposed design (here is an image from WCC’s planning document) will require a cyclist using the roadway coming from Gibbet Hill heading towards Stoneleigh to move to the right to avoid the “free flowing” traffic destined for the A46 slip northbound (essentially a high-speed on-ramp). Our cyclist will then have to wait for a gap to enter the gyratory. Finally the cyclist will have to dodge traffic leaving the A46. Given that one of the stated aims of the project is to increase both traffic flow and traffic speed (due to the larger curvature radius for both left and right turning traffic leaving the A46 than in the current arrangement), this will be a hazardous route.

Scenario II: Cyclist Choosing to Ride on WCC-Provided Cycle and Pedestrian Path

WCC plans indicate that there will be some form of pathway on the south side of the project. This is the same design as the hard-to-navigate Thickthorne junction – and likely worse because of the dedicated high-speed on- and off-ramps.

Here is what WCC thinks is adequate for cyclists and pedestrians (it is helpful to think of this in rainy and dark conditions, such as would the be case when leaving work at the University of Warwick at 5 pm or 6 pm in January):

  1. a cyclist coming from Warwick Uni on the proposed path (there is little indication where such a path will begin and it is unlikely to be of any considerable length) will have to cross the road with no help from a red light to the north of the proposed roundabout (visible on the top left);
  2. Our cyclist will have to cross another two lanes of traffic over Dalehouse Lane without the help of red light;
  3.  Then our cyclist will have navigate across a high-speed slip-road from the A46 northbound and traffic entering the gyratory from the same direction (without the help of red light);
  4. Then, s/he will have to navigate across traffic leaving the gyratory heading south on the A46 and the high-speed slip-road coming from Stoneleigh (by now you know that this is without the help of red light);
  5. In order to continue on the correct side of the road, our cyclist will then have to cross Stoneleigh Road (do I need to repeat that there will be no …?).

So, there you have it. Our cyclist will have no less than five roads (meaning at least 10 lanes) to cross without any aid from red lights. It will deter all but the most determined cyclists to use this roadway and is about as uninviting as it could potentially be. Infrastructure for cyclists needs to be as good if not better than that for motorized vehicles as the level of risk is simply higher given the lack comparable safety compared to motorized vehicles.

It is clear that WCC has many competing demands that need to be reconciled as its staff has pointed out repeatedly. But first and foremost among those must be safety for vulnerable road users and this is where the proposed design fails miserably. The current design quite clearly shows that WCC prioritizes speed and convenience of drivers over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. One of the arguments WCC has made is that it is too difficult. To which I respond that the aforementioned Interim Advice Note 195/16 has plenty of good ideas that should be implemented: grade separation, underbridges, stop lights and more. Of course such steps require extra efforts and potentially more funding. But it is simply a terrible excuse to say that it is “difficult”.

The project lacks even the most basic elements – which are not difficult to put in place (and which would make the design only marginally better): push buttons to allow pedestrians and cyclists to actually get across the numerous lanes of traffic that the planned project entails. By necessity that would mean that vehicular traffic would have to stop and that is not something WCC plans for or wants to see happen.

Alternatives May or May not Come and Are not Viable 

We have also heard that – at some undetermined point in the future – bicycle provisions will be made in the context of this project. Where this will be is unclear. WCC staff have indicated that they want to extend an existing pedestrian bridge between the Stoneleigh and Thickthorne crossings over the A46. While this would be welcome, there is no certainty as to when such a project would be undertaken. Assurances are worth absolutely nothing at this stage as previously WCC has indicated that the design of the Stoneleigh Junction would be reconsidered.

Such a bridge would also not be a genuine alternative for anyone wanting to travel between Kenilworth and Leamington (depending a bit on where you live of course) as it increases the distance considerably and – just like car drivers – cyclists also prefer direct routes.

Consider also the following: anyone wanting to go, say, from Stoneleigh to the University trying to avoid this new junction would see their distance increase from 3.1 miles to 5.3 miles using Crew Lane into Kenilworth and to the Uni. This will discourage almost anyone from using a bike.

This shows that WCC fundamentally misunderstands that any project it undertakes across the A46 or similar roads must include proper and safe cycling and pedestrian facilities. These projects have a lifetime of 40-60 years and given that roads like the A46 are essentially insurmountable barriers, any possibility to provide passage for pedestrians and cyclists must be taken on in a meaningful manner. The current plans fail that test.

Conclusion

I apologize for the length of the post, but the project is too important to allow WCC to get away with the current design. It is not only what is being planned, but the attitude with which the project is being designed.

Safety must be the number one priority in such a project, but the plans show that safety – at least as it pertains to cyclists and pedestrians – is far down the list for WCC. From a safety perspective, the current plans are actually worse than what is already in place. To understand what the project will look like you need to look no further than the Embarrassing and Dangerous crossing over the A46 between Leamington and Kenilworth. I would like to be wrong, but the proof will frankly be in what WCC will build. There is still time to make the necessary changes.

In the meantime, I invite WCC staff or any councillor (and their families) to join me in navigating their designs (bike provided). It promises to be an eye-opening experience.

 

University of Warwick Plans for New Parking Garage

The University of Warwick is planning a new parking garage on campus. It is also requesting feedback from various constituencies, which you can leave here. People are encouraged to leave feedback if they are interested in having input and potentially shaping the project.

As always, these products look pretty and the university has – by some accounts (namely the British Car Parking Association) – done a good job during the last round of car parking construction. As we have previously pointed out, the approach to that new car park, which is also part of Cycling Route 52, could however use some improvements.

According to the project description, the planners aim for an “efficient and safe new car park” and for “[h]igh quality pedestrian routes will be provided to link the car park into campus” (see here). Moreover, the total number of spaces will still be below the limits agreed upon with Coventry City Council, although we understand that the number of remaining slots is decreasing. What happens in the future remains unclear, as the impact of the new “main entrance” to the University from the A46 Link Road Scheme is still in the planning stages.

Here are some thoughts we sent to the planners of the new parking garage. They concern first better bicycle parking as the new structure will be constructed on a site where bicycle parking is currently in operation. We would propose to provide covered bike parking with a bicycle repair stand built into or close to the garage. Given that the costs are – in comparison to a car parking garage – minimal, such facilities could become part of this project. If we were to dream, the university could actually do something fantastic like a bikestation (happiness would consist of covered parking with some additional amenities) since there appears to be space for a future project between the new structure and University House.

The second comment concerns the ingresses and egresses onto Gibbet Hill Road and Kirby Corner. Both should be designed so that they are friendly for pedestrians. This includes relatively tight turning radii (we understand that one could argue that speed shouldn’t be an issue at peak times, but it can be even for such projects), speed tables for both departing and incoming vehicles and – crucially – giving pedestrians priority through zebra crossings.

The campus overall is not particularly friendly in that regard and lacks some of these rather basic elements that make the built environment pedestrian friendly. Car drivers regularly disregard pedestrians even in areas where shares spaces were built. These two areas on campus are prime examples, but so is pretty much every roundabout where pedestrians regularly have to contend with aggressive drivers.

It would be good to start improvements (even if that means slowing cars down) with this project.

National Cycle Route 52 in Coventry

A blog reader sent in the following message:

The road and path from the new car park up to Tesco and Cannon Park has been clear of road works for a while now, so I’m presuming it is thought of as complete. As a cyclist could I ask whether I’m supposed to ride on the extra wide path with pedestrians or bump up and down the kerb to access the path that leads to the residences or bump up the kerb to access the path from the new car park leading to car park 8/8a?

If the former why is this not painted on or signposted? If the later WHY is there no dropped kerb? We haven’t all got mountain bike tyres and the angle means I have to swing to the right slightly (with cars behind trying to access the car park entrance) to cleanly access the path.

This is unacceptable and short sighted by the University and contractors, it also confirms my opinion that cyclists come as low priority to campus ‘improvements’ over cars and pedestrians. I have patiently been waiting to see if this will be rectified (common sense alone would spot this) but unfortunately common sense isn’t that common and I feel forced to complain (again).

Also no route signs signifying national cycle way? Anyone else on the list have thoughts on this?

To clarify things a bit, here is the map of the general area, with the particular section pointed out:

Here are some pictures that provide a bit of context. Bear in mind that this path is one of the main entrance ways for cyclists and pedestrians to the University of Warwick coming from Coventry or a nearby shopping center. The pictures are taken sequentially from north to south. The whole section is only about 200-300 m long. To be fair, the Road Safety Audit is upcoming and there is some hope that things will improve. It also seems that the planners were surprised that there was more foot traffic on the sidewalk than they had anticipated so that cycling on that path is now often out of the question.

But with a bit more foresight (or asking the users what they think of the plans) better infrastructure could have been had without any additional costs.

As you approach from the north, this is what you see:

The first thing to note is that the sign for the cycle route is arguably on the wrong side.

Lo and behold there is a signpost on the left, but I suppose it was too important to put information for car drivers on it:

You then see a splayed kerb at roughly where the red marking starts in the picture above, which looks like this:

Those splayed kerb is gradually lowered:

This is done to allow cyclists to take a left at this stage. The kerb is not overly high and cycleable at the end (but rather high in the beginning, see above), but some users feel that it in combination with having to swerve into the roadway with cars potentially behind you (the last picture shows the new parking structure the University put up recently), this is not an appropriate design. Moreover, in winter with ice forming this could be a dangerous spot for those unaware of the design. The fix would have been simple. Just drop the kerb all the way down.

This last picture also shows that what the designers cared about was car access to the garage. Beautifully done. It would have been so simple to help cyclists wanting to go straight with a dropped kerb, but that didn’t happen.

It is a tiny project in the grand scheme of things and improvements are promised. Still, the takeaway is that the designers need to have in mind all road users (even if the Transport Secretary doesn’t think cyclists are road users). There is an active Bicycle User Group (BUG) at the University of Warwick and I think the planners would find its members would be happy to take a look at the plans if they were made available. In the long run it saves costs and hassle.

 

The A46 Link Road Scheme: Some Early Thoughts

The Leamington Observer posted a short and somewhat cryptic story a short time ago entitled County Council approve plans for improvement works to A46. It peaked my curiosity as this would have an impact on my daily commute. The article was based on a Warwickshire County Council News item. It also talked about some three phase project that impacted the route from the A46 to the University of Warwick. Still, it is rather cryptic. It entails a new road that links the A46 from Stoneleigh Road westwards to Westwood Heath.

Not quite sure what to make of it after reading it, I decided to go on another quest for information from Warwickshire County Council. I ended up speaking with Adrian Hart, Senior Transport Planner for the County Council. The conversation was very cordial and enlightening.

The missing piece in all of this is that the area to the south of the University of Warwick will not only see the HS2 train project (that much is known) cut through the fields there, but apparently also a major road project that will rather dramatically change the entire area. Part of plan is based on the projected expansion of the University of Warwick and what will – according to Mr. Hart – be the new main entrance to the University.

Phase 1 is a reconfiguration of the A46 Stoneleigh interchange which now functions more or less, but is relatively straightforward for a cyclist to navigate. The plans for the interchange will make it much more complex.

The image below is from a planning document, which is available here.

For those not familiar with the interchange, here are the most salient changes. The project will turn the existing one bridge design into a large gyratory with a new bridge being added on the northern side. The existing roundabout on the western side will be demolished and replaced with a new one that is supposed to be better aligned with what will be the new road towards the new main entrance to the university – on the road that is yet to be built once you move past Dalehouse Lane and which will be on the southern perimeter of the university grounds.

Initially, this will mean no change to the traffic volume on Stoneleigh Road which often sees bumper to bumper traffic. That will only be alleviated when Phase 2 of the project is completed and for which no public plan exist at this point.

Mr. Hart assured me that in all phases there will be provisions for cyclists and that there are initial plans to put in place a stop on the rail line between Kenilworth and Coventry (something that I have long been thinking should be the case). So far, so good.

The problematic bit of this is that the existing bridge which currently has two lanes is slated to be expanded into three lanes (as per the above description), which would triple the existing capacity. This seems a bit odd given that the existing structure can cope (if not exactly well) with the traffic volume. At least two problems. First, the existing scheme does nothing – I repeat: nothing! – to deter individuals to come to the university by car, but rather encourages that mode of transport. Second, the three lane layout will make it impossible to put a badly needed bicycle lane in place if one expands the capacity to such an extent.

So, it will be interesting to see the exact plans for this project. Mr. Hart was kind enough to agree to come to a meeting of Cycleways, the local Leamington Spa advocacy group that I am a member of. We will keep you posted on what the next steps in this project will be.

Missing Gutter Cover: Figuring Out Warwickshire County Council

I took a slightly different route to work this morning and came across an unpleasant surprise:

As you can see from the picture below the missing cover is a hazard and I suspect that is true not only for a skinny bicycle tire, but even for cars. The placement of the gutter also makes this a place where cyclists would venture and may have a hard time seeing the missing cover at night. It would make for a nasty spill, with serious injury highly likely.

I decided that I would make this a test case. I had never contacted authorities about road issues in the UK and figured this obvious case would be as good as any to see what the reaction of the authorities were. At the time I thought I would be in for a bureaucratic odyssey.

The County’s website has a bunch of information and ways to submit an issue, but none of them seemed germane to a more urgent situation (which I consider this to be). I decided to call instead.

10:50 am: I call the main line and get put through to a friendly agent within a minute or so. We discuss the problem, location. Very efficient. I ask what will be done about it. The response is promising: as this is considered an urgent matter, they would send someone out today and determine what would need to be done. I was also asked to send in the pictures.

I was happy with that response and have some hope that this will get fixed within a few days.

UPDATE:

12:39 pm (8 December): I receive a phone call from an unknown number and someone from Warwickshire County Council is on the line and informs me that the crew is being dispatched and things should be fixed within a day or so.

I will post further updates as things develop (which really should only be one more, indicating that things have been fixed).

11:00 am (9 December): The results are in – Warwickshire County Council has done an amazing job by fixing this within an extremely short period of time. On my way home last night I saw that the gutter had already been fixed, but with darkness and traffic the timing for taking pictures just wasn’t right.

Attacks on Kenilworth Cycle Route

This just in from University of Warwick Estates. This is not my usual route to get to work, but for those that travel the route on a regular basis, be careful out there.

Attacks reported on Kenilworth Cycle Route

If you cycle or walk from Kenilworth to campus, take care – we’ve had reports of a group attacking people in the area and stealing money. We’ve reported the attacks to the local Police force and requested them to increase patrols in that area, and we’ll pass on any new information as soon as we have it.

 

 

Commuting from Leamington to the University of Warwick

The daily commute is about 8-9 miles one way, depending on the route I chose. Below are some impressions in chronological order. Beautiful ride on a beautiful coolish fall day, with a lot less cars than is usually the case.

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For those interested in the route, see below (because of a quirk in Google Maps in the Stoneleigh Abbey area, I can not draw a contiguous route):